When I was in primary school, we recited a lot of thing – times tables, for example; how to parse verbs and nouns; the major rivers of NSW north to south; tables of weights and measures. And although it wasn’t the most fascinating way of learning, by golly it stuck, and I really don’t think it did irreparable damage to our delicate childish psyches.
But then those were the days when delicate childish psyches didn’t get much of a look-in, and in this instance, you won’t find me regretting it. How useful is it to know instantly and automatically that twelve eights are ninety-six, or that if you buy five of those fantastic $7 specials, it’s going to cost you 35 bucks?
The parsing thing really only came into its own when I started to learn other languages, but I won’t go into that because if you didn’t learn how to parse an English noun in the first place (and very few people do nowadays) you won’t know what I’m talking about.
The rivers of NSW? Not of great practical value, but they did give me a geographical understanding of where I live, and why some things happened as they did. Weights and measures were no longer of use when everything went metric, but they still come in handy for the treasures in my mother’s recipe books, so I’m not complaining.
We also, back then, recited a lot of poetry, mainly Australian bush verse which had the advantage (to children) of scanning and rhyming, but would be heavily scorned in the current age of (often formless) obscurity, as being trite.
But as I get older – more contemplative – those are the snippets that pop into my head rather than the more ‘acceptable’ poetry I consumed in large quantities.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains…
An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand…
From My Country by Dorothea Mackellar.
There used to be a red road running o’er the rise,
Dipping down to fernland and climbing to the skies;
And there among the tall trees the sleepy shadows lay,
And the forest birds were singing there the livelong day.
I used to like to walk there as the days grew old,
Beneath the stately gum trees afire with sunset gold…
And somewhere near the sunrise, before my days are done
I’ll build myself a resting place where still the red roads run.
From The Red Road by John K Ewers.
Perhaps the fact that they speak to me now as they didn’t then is symptomatic of creeping senility, but you know what? I don’t care.